Number: #6 - February 2007
Guitar Guru: Troy
Hey Troy, Speed Mechanics was ace i still use it.
One thing that's been bugging me for a while though is the best
method for picking. Everyone seems to have a different idea of
what is best, some say pick with the wrist, some use their fingers
more. Some people rest their pinky on a pickup/string others don't.
What do you do? Most people say do whatever feels natural, but
i'm having a lot of problems developing my alternate picking because
i just cant get a great economy of motion. any tips would be great,
thanks a lot for taking questions. Anon
Guru: My pleasure. I’m
glad to hear you like the book! The main thing about picking is
to get it down to a very small, controlled motion. You want to
be just on the tip of the pick, like 1mm. You want to be able
to feel exactly where it is relative to the string. So maybe start
out putting the tip of the pick against the string and just brush
over it until the string actually slips out of the way. At that
moment your pick should still be touching the string, but now
it’s on the other side of the string. Go slowly back and
forth like this. You aren’t actually “picking”…
just getting used to feeling the pick slip across the string.
Then all you do is allow it to move slightly beyond that restricted
range in each direction and suddenly you are picking with the
kind of small motion you need for high speed picking. Also, there
shouldn’t be any “catching” on either side.
Alter the angle and depth of the pick until it smooths out. Then
speed up the motion, but keep it very small. Try to tremolo pick
within that same restricted space. When that works, you pretty
much have it.
Now the main thrust of your question was about the macro-physics
of it, like closed fingers vs. open fingers, movement originating
from wrist vs. fingers vs. elbow, etc. To me, those are the next
step. Focusing on the point of action—the tip of the pick—comes
first. If you get that motion working properly, my sense is that
the others will probably take care of themselves. That’s
why I think you find so many different people using different
picking methods, and then we get all the confusion that arises
from these conflicting claims. I say, first, focus on the fundamental
action. If it works, it works. Period. Looking at it from the
macro level down is backwards.
But after we cover the starting point, we can move on to those
macro issues. For the fastest stuff, I pick from the wrist, usually
with an open hand that “floats”. I don’t like
to anchor my little finger. One of the reasons I tend to keep
my hand open is because I like the varied texture/tone of using
palm mutes and opening the mutes. And the floating position allows
me to palm mute at any time. And the open hand allows me to extend
the palm mute to the highest strings. Sometimes I may use a closed
hand as well, but to me there is no real gain to it. It just doesn’t
much matter. I also angle the edge of the pick nearest the neck,
downward slightly, so it hits at a slight angle, which helps smooth
out the string-crossings..
I don’t use the jazz finger/thumb approach. I guess it can
allow some advantages by controlling the exact picking angle (and
therefore tone and smoothness), but I’ve never seen anyone
use that technique to play really fast. Sure it works for relatively
fast picking, but there is a big difference between 16th notes
at 144bpm (moderately fast) and at 200bpm (blazing). Since I get
all the tone and smoothness I need, and my technique allows me
to pick as fast as I’ve cared to pick as well as slower
tempos, there is no gain I see in the finger/thumb approach. But
then again, I don’t play jazz lines. Maybe if I valued that,
I’d see things differently.
Another jazz-inspired idea is the anchoring of the little finger
(or several fingers) on the body of the guitar. I guess this can
help stabilize things. Mike Batio plays this way a lot, and no
one can argue that he sure has amazing picking technique. However,
it doesn’t allow for palm muting to be interspersed within
runs, which is something I like.
don’t pick with motion from the elbow, either. I’ve
seen players do this and pick very fast, so it can certainly be
done. But wrist motion uses smaller muscle mass, so theoretically
it should be more efficient. Since eliminating tension is a big
part of speed, it seems to me that elbow motion has an inherent
disadvantage to it. However, if it works for you, you may be better
off continuing with what you do.
So the bottom line is that different approaches produce somewhat
different results. There aren’t any true absolutes about
right or wrong picking, IMO. For example, most people angle the
edge of the pick nearest the neck downward slightly, as I do.
But I recall seeing a Shawn Lane video years ago, and he reversed
that angle… and picked amazingly fast. There are always
exceptions. So if a person is happy with the results they are
getting, I would never tell them to go back and “relearn
the right way” (translation: do it MY way) That’s
just ridiculous dogma, and maybe a little arrogance to boot. I
believe in being practical. Focus on the point of action…
the tip of the pick… and make that work. Listen to opinions
about the other issues if you need the guidance, but realize they
are all secondary.
Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.
I am working my way through SM and it is a really great book!
Do you have any advice on how to divide up the content so practice
time is spent efficiently? There are so many examples, I'm not
sure how tackle them all. For example, would you devote a 1/2
hour per day to chromatics, 1/2 to legato, 1/2 to 3 note/string,
etc.? I generally have 4-5 hours per day to practice, and if I'm
not careful I end up doing nothing but exercises since there are
Guru: This is a good question,
and a tricky one to answer because the right answer is a bit different
for different people. I’m not the kind of person to set
a clock and play X minutes on this or that. Might not be a bad
idea, though. I’ve just never done it. My approach is more
in following inspiration and desire. So if I see the need to increase
finger independence, I would work on those exercises for a while
until I start to get a reasonable increase in that department,
and things start to work better. For people going through Speed
Mechanics, I’d recommend they pick one area (or set of examples)
to be the “main focus” for a period of days. Each
day, maybe spend a short time warming up on a previous page (maybe
choose a different warm up for each session). Then hit the main
area for a while. How exactly you break it up is entirely up to
you. Maybe try some different ideas like you suggested, then see
what the results are. If it works for you, well, you can’t
argue with success. You’ll know what is working by a feeling
of solid progress. Yeah, it can be slow, like watching an hour
hand on the clock. But you don’t actually sit there and
“watch” your progress. It’s just something you
are vaguely aware of in the back of your mind. So I can’t
say how many hours on this or that, or WHEN to move on to the
next area. I CAN say that if you feel you hit a plateau, it’s
time to move on to something else. If you feel you are getting
bored with an example, it’s time to move on. If you feel
that all that comes to mind when you are sitting down to practice
are these exercises, then you have lost the sense of creativity
to go outside them, it’s time to move on.
are powerful tools to selectively hone aspects of technique. But
they can easily be overused. When this happens it gradually burns
you out, and dries up your creativity. So depending on your level,
you may find it’s time to move on in Speed mechanics even
though you haven’t reached the level you want. That’s
fine. You have improved. Don’t run it into the ground and
burn yourself out. Move on and keep new challenges coming. You
can always go back and run through the whole process again, rasing
the tempos that much higher.
Whatever you do, don’t practice exercises all the time.
We get good at what we practice. Practice only exercises and you
become good only at playing exercises. We really seek to play
music, not exercises. We only use exercises to play music better.
Don’t lose sight of that. Playing music also is about momentum
and “thinking on your feet”(improve anyway) and feeling
in that “zone” of groove. So keep plenty of that in
your practice time too, and you’ll keep your creative flow,
momentum and inspiration.
Hey Troy, SM is great for my chromatic playing,
i still use it, I was wondering since that modes are becoming
more popular if you would release a book about how they are constructed
and how to use them, also what do you think of Shawn Lane? Scott
Guru: Glad you asked…
I cover the modes and their uses (along with the entire fretboard
and structure of music as I see it) in a new book that I just
completed called Fretboard Mastery. I’m told the street
date for it is March 1st, 2007. It’s sort of a companion
to Speed Mechanics in the sense that while SM covers the physical
aspects of playing, FM is the whole non-physical structure of
understanding what to play. Of course there are a bunch of challenging
examples in there, too.
you mentioned Shawn Lane, since I just mentioned him in the first
answer above. He was an exceptional fusion player. Among shredders,
I find the fusion-rooted guys to be the most interesting these
days. Maybe that’s just because it’s further outside
my own area of specialization.
Hey Troy, I
was just wondering do you have any tips on increasing Aural Skills?
I have trouble on tabbing songs that i like and would be awesome
if you can give some pointers. Bon
Guru: My upcoming book,
Fretboard Mastery is full of ear training exercises, first and
foremost, because you must have a grasp on that to really understand
the fretboard in a comprehensive way. So, yeah, part I of that
book is one place to start. It contains a gradually expanding
frame of reference, and includes a bunch of transcription practice.
But it’s not designed to be a “transcribers method.”
It only uses the transcription practice for the purpose of developing
your ear better. It doesn’t get into recognizing/writing
rhythm, or get into the details about written notation so much.
But really, developing your ear is the most important thing. It
doesn’t matter whether the sounds you hear come from a song
(outside your head) or your imagination (inside your head). The
process of converting what you hear into both the abstract musical
structure as well as the appropriate fretboard patterns for that
structure, is the same for both. I’m pretty excited about
that book, to tell you the truth. I worked on it, on and off,
for over 5 years. And it’s literally packed with info. Of
course the true test of it’s value and effectiveness will
be when you guys actually use it, and tell me if it really works
as I hoped!
I always end up using the same type of technique
for example alternate picking, dont need it all the time... how
do i change it up from one to another, it seems to be that I go
back to what i know and i can do but I want to do more? Anon
Guru: Stop thinking about
the instrument from the point of view of techniques and patterns,
and start just listening. Put yourself in the seat of the listener
and let that guide you. The more you learn to listen to what you
play, the more your own sense of melody will guide you.
a more specific approach, you could also try cataloging all the
different approaches you know, or even the types of licks/runs
you play. If there are say, four main different approaches you
rely on most, when you notice you’re dwelling too long in
one, just make a mental note to jump out of that one and go to
#2, or whatever.
Hey Troy, due to the success of instructional dvds
such as rock disclipline and speed kills, have you considered
doing any dvds yourself, also are there any young guitarists that
have caught your eye that is worth checking out? A. Hughes
Guru: I’ve done
5 DVDs for Hal Leonard… let’s see, Black Sabbath,
Modern Rock and Hard Rock signature licks, plus two Beginning
Rock videos. I also just recorded 18 short videos for Hal Leonard,
to be released as internet downloads later this year. Those include
some advanced stuff. I have considered doing a DVD for some of
the material in Speed Mechanics, but frankly, there is just so
many other things competing for time, that it’s never been
a top priority. I’ve got the whole band aspect rolling now
(with Second Soul), and that’s a major time commitment.
Hi Troy, a lot of guitar playing is based on soloing
these days and most rhythm playing is using powerchords and pedal
tones on drop tuning, what advice can you give to learn new chords
and can you give any advice on how to use them? David
Guru: Sure, expand the
range of style that you listen to. There are 1000s of bands out
there these days. I just joined Yahoo Music… for $70 I can
listen unlimited to full tracks of over 2 million songs. I just
wrote a GuitarOne Shred column on Megadeth, and had to find a
bunch of obscure tunes by the various guitarists side projects,
and had no trouble at all locating and listening to everything.
I think the main problem is that the old model of radio-station-dominated
major labels really restricts what people think of as “significant”
music. It’s only the music that those guys think they can
best make money on. There is plenty of well done and interesting
guitar work out there that you will never hear on the radio.
But my advice specifically would be to start learning some songs
that are outside your “known zone.” Quickly, you’ll
find new ways of approaching chords. A chord reference book might
be nice to look over from time to time, but it won’t help
you actually USE the chords. For that, you need to seek out music.
You learn only by example and experimentation.
Thanks all, good questions! And good luck to everyone…
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